April 27, 2017

Influencer Lessons From an Elusive Web Cartoonist


My favorite web comic is ending soon, and I’m devastated.

I’m also intrigued, specifically by how its author, Brooklyn-based cartoonist Meredith Gran, has created a devoted base of followers that rivals that of a successful social media influencer, all through a content strategy that sustains a sort of “connected distance” with (and from) her fans. I’ve put that phrase in quotes because I’ll talk about it more in depth shortly. But first, an overview.

Octopus Pie is a quixotically named series that centers around Eve and Hanna, two Brooklyn hipsters stumbling through city life, and it has been around since 2007. It began as a screwball monochromatic comedy about its heroes’ goofy episodic misadventures. Then in 2014, Gran began adding in color. And something magical happened: the strip evolved into a contemplative, fantastical, hilarious and sometimes heart-shattering look at what it means — and how it feels — to be a young person trying to navigate the chaotic world around them.

The strip’s evolution has also showcased Gran’s masterful craft and creativity as a cartoonist. For an example of the overall amazingness, check out my personal favorite, The Witch Lives, a series of wordless snapshots (and ingeniously used white space) that depicts Hanna’s life after her years-long relationship falls apart. Or the stunningly imaginative Sick Trim, which won’t make sense no matter how much I try to explain it here. To say “what a difference a decade makes” is a massive understatement here, both in terms of the advancement of Gran’s drawing talent as well as her storytelling ability.

The Indirect Influencer

To get a handle on Gran’s ability to engage with her followers, scroll past each post and take a look at her comments section. It’s full of opinions, interpretations, declarations of adoration, and explanations of how closely the subject matter relates to the fans’ own lives. It’s a wave of incredibly heartwarming and positive user-generated content. And Gran generally doesn’t respond to or interact with a single one.

In fact, Gran didn’t even announce the comic’s impending finale (well, not directly, at least). The news, that she would end the strip shortly after its 10-year anniversary in May, first emerged as a worried rumor in the comments section, only to be confirmed later by the cartoonist herself, in more of a shrug than a send-off. In a strangely indirect way, Gran let her own following make the announcement for her.

Not to say that Gran doesn’t ever engage with fans. Her Twitter following is 24.4k strong, and she tweets often to announce new comics, make witty one-liners or retweet relevant news stories, jokes and other content. By frequently posting, but never with the same emotional impact her comics have, Gran has effectively used a level of connected distance to create and maintain a huge, loyal and active online following.

The Takeaway

As far as our work at Delucchi Plus goes, we can’t say we advocate building a follower base on a strategy of emotional distance. While it has proven successful in Gran’s case, it more generally can create a sense of alienation between the content producer and the follower — which can disengage your audience, no matter how good the content in question is. For our social campaigns, we stick to creating a regular series of posts that blend a compelling, personable brand voice and personality with eye-catching visuals. We prefer to establish a connected availability with our audiences, rather than a connected distance.

All that said, Octopus Pie is still a powerful example of what can be achieved when you master your brand tone, produce first-rate content, and effectively leverage your power as an influencer (we’ve done our fair share of research on this very topic, in fact). Gran regularly creates brilliant, emotionally resonant content that has led to a strong connection with its target audience. And in ten years, she has evolved the comic’s brand voice into so much more than that of a jaded and cynical NYC hipster. It’s now a human story that’s universally relatable and visually captivating, which is why her base continues growing, and why even non-urbanites keep coming back for more. Even if they, like me, have no idea what octopus pie actually is.